The Butterbox Babies Story
The Ideal Maternity Home is infamous for the Butterbox Babies.
The Ideal Maternity Home operated in East Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada from the late 1920s through at least the late 1940s. William and Lila Young operated it. William was a chiropractor and Lila was a midwife, although she advertised herself as an obstetrician. While they were tried for various crimes involving the home, including manslaughter, the entire truth of the horrors perpetrated there was not widely known until much later.
The Ideal Maternity Home promised both maternity care for local married couples and discreet birthing and placement for children of unwed mothers. The home was the source of babies for an illegal trade in infants between Canada and the United States. During this period the laws in the US forbid adoption across religious backgrounds. There was an acute shortage of babies available for Jewish couples to adopt. The home would provide these desperate people "black market" adoptions charging up to $10,000 for a baby. Many of the babies in the 1940s ended up in Jewish homes in New Jersey. At the same time they would charge the mothers $500 for their services. At this time the average wage in the area was $8 a week. Many of the mothers could not afford this sum, and were forced to work at the home for up to eighteen months to pay their bill.
During WWII business was booming because nearby Halifax was a major port serving as the point of departure for convoys crossing the North Atlantic to England. Many of these ships never completed the journey. The sailors and merchant seamen would squeeze as much of life into their days in port as they could, and many women were left as unmarried or widowed expectant mothers. The Ideal Maternity Home offered almost the only place that could provide for these women and their children.
What was discovered later was that the Youngs would purposely starve "unmarketable" babies to death by feeding them only molasses and water. On this diet the infants would usually last only two weeks. Any deformity, a serious illness or "dark" coloration would often seal their fate. Babies who died were disposed of in small wooden grocery boxes, typically used for dairy products. Thus the term Butterbox Babies is used to refer to these unfortunate infants. The Butterbox Babies bodies were buried on the property, adjacent to a nearby cemetery, at sea or sometimes burned in the homes furnace. In some cases married couples who had come to the home solely for birthing services were told that their baby had died shortly after birth. In truth these babies were also sold to adoptive parents. The Youngs would also separate or create siblings to meet the desires of customers. It is estimated that between four and six hundred babies died at the home, while at least another thousand survived and were adopted. Even these lucky survivors often suffered from ailments caused by the unsanitary conditions and lack of care at the home.
Survivors of dark episode in Canada's history trace their past
WHEN RIVA Barnett Saia was old enough to read, her parents gave her a copy of the "The Chosen Baby," a book that explained why her olive-skinned family didn't share her blue eyes and blond hair.
Now, Saia and as many as 40 other adoptees living in the U.S.A.... are discovering their identities within the pages of a paperback book, linking them to a dark chapter in Canada's history.
The adoptees came from the Ideal Maternity Home, an illegally run home for unwed mothers in the rural east Canadian province of Nova Scotia, where many babies were sold on the black market to desperate couples from New York and New Jersey in the 1930s and '40s.
The unwanted children were killed and buried in Butterboxes for coffins in unmarked graves in a field.
A movie was made about the Butterbox Babies Movie
A movie about the Butterbox Babies, starring Susan Clark was released in 1995.